With the possibility of a perfect season now over for the Green Bay Packers, and the Chicago Bears in the midst of a free fall from playoff contention, the NFL’s lone Christmas game has lost most of its luster.
The Packers look to bounce back from their first defeat in almost exactly one year and hand the injury-riddled Bears a fifth consecutive loss Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Packers as 11 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 42.
Five weeks ago this contest appeared ready to live up to the expected hype with Green Bay (13-1) flirting with a perfect season and Chicago (7-7) riding a five-game winning streak. Little more than a month later, much less drama surrounds the NFL’s Christmas showcase.
Though the Packers still own the league’s best record and remain Super Bowl favorites, they’re battling injuries and could rest more players after their 19-game winning streak was snapped with a 19-14 loss at Kansas City last Sunday.
Chicago, meanwhile, has dropped four in a row since its five-game run and will be starting recently-signed journeyman Josh McCown at quarterback.
While the Bears playoff hopes might be slim, they remain focused on trying to snap both their overall losing streak and a three-game skid against Green Bay. That includes a 21-14 loss in last season’s NFC championship game at Soldier Field.
“We don’t have quitters on our football team, and we have football left, a lot of football left to go hopefully,” coach Lovie Smith told the Bears’ official website. “You want to play better, so that’s what motivates us.
“Green Bay is our rival. They’ve dominated the rivalry here lately and we have to take a stand.”
That might not be easy for the Bears, who have averaged 11.8 points over the last four games with Jay Cutler sidelined by a broken thumb suffered during a 31-20 win over San Diego on Nov. 20.
They’re still alive for a wild-card spot, but must win both their remaining games, hope either Detroit or Atlanta loses twice and get some additional help.
“It’s about just getting one win,” Smith said. “That’s enough right there to get motivated for this week.”
Trying desperately for that win, Smith will replace struggling Caleb Hanie with McCown. Hanie recorded a 41.8 passer rating with nine interceptions and three touchdowns while starting throughout the four-game skid.
“Right now, we’re disappointed in our quarterback play,” Smith said. “It hasn’t been as good as we’d like it to be. But you can say that about other positions. A lot of times, with the backup quarterback, you don’t know what you have until he has to play, and you start evaluating him and what you’re doing after that.”
An assistant high school football coach until the Bears signed him Nov. 23, McCown saw his first action in two years last Sunday after Hanie was pulled for throwing three interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns – during an embarrassing 38-14 home loss to Seattle. McCown, who last started in 2007 for Oakland, threw 35 TDs and 41 interceptions for Arizona, Detroit, the Raiders and Carolina from 2002-09.
McCown won’t have the opportunity to hand off to Matt Forte, who will miss a third straight game with a knee injury. Receiver Johnny Knox is done for the season after he suffered a back injury against the Seahawks.
Green Bay will be without top receiver Greg Jennings and likely right tackle Bryan Bulaga – both due to knee injuries – as it tries to regroup following its first loss since falling 31-27 at New England on Dec. 19, 2010.
“Everybody’s disappointed with the loss and the opportunity to have an undefeated season,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “But the reality is upon us. We have it at home, against the Bears, and that’s what we need to get ready for.
“Everybody goes through different challenges throughout their season. My confidence hasn’t wavered.”
Aaron Rodgers, who might not play a full game Sunday, is 6-2 lifetime against the Bears, completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,937 yards with 10 TDs and seven interceptions in the series. He was 28 of 38 for 297 yards and three touchdowns in Green Bay’s 27-17 win at Chicago on Sept. 25.
Rodgers recorded season lows with a 48.6 completion percentage, 235 passing yards, one touchdown and an 80.1 passer rating in last week’s loss to the Chiefs. Rodgers also was sacked four times as the Packers scored their fewest points since a 10-3 win over the Bears in last year’s regular season finale – a victory that got them into the playoffs.
“The only thing we can do is go 18-1,” said receiver Donald Driver, who has caught three of his five touchdowns in the last three games. “If that’s 18-1 and you’re the Super Bowl champs, I don’t think anyone cares about the perfect season after that.”
Green Bay has outscored Chicago 68-21 during a three-game home winning streak in the series. Prior to the Packers’ current run, the Bears had won four in a row at Lambeau.